Alec Baldwin has taken his lumps as a verbal loose cannon, but Americans for the Arts, a leading national advocacy group for nonprofit arts organizations, still trusts Baldwin as one of its go-to guys.
It announced this week that the actor will be back at its podium for the annual Arts Advocacy Day proceedings in Washington, D.C., in late March.
The keynote address each year is called the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy; Baldwin delivered it in 2012, after being introduced by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd.
Americans for the Arts says that for the 2014 lecture on March 24, they’ll switch roles, with Baldwin giving the introduction and Dowd the lecture.
As this video of his 2012 lecture shows, Baldwin was much smitten by the intro Dowd gave him, calling him a "mad genius." He expressed his pleasure by improvising a fantasy that seemed for a moment as if it might be tacking toward flirtation and beyond.
“Could you imagine living with Maureen Dowd? (dreamy voice) Lying in bed, end of a long day (pause)… Hearing her give you her take on the world? She is really something else.”
In Wednesday’s written announcement that he’ll give Dowd’s intro, Baldwin said, “the only thing better than giving the Nancy Hanks Lecture is introducing the great Maureen Dowd when she gives the Nancy Hanks Lecture.”
After hearing the evening talk on why the arts -- and government support for them -- are important, the gathered arts advocates will fan out over Capitol Hill the next day, hoping to influence members of Congress.
They’ll lobby for arts funding and other cultural policy priorities, including fending off proposed changes to the federal income tax code that would curtail deductions that high-earners can take for charitable gifts.
Baldwin’s most recent controversy came in November, when he hurled a profanity disparaging gays at a photographer who he felt had intruded on his family outside their Manhattan apartment. Last June he called a British reporter a “toxic little queen,” angered by an erroneous report that his wife, Hilaria, had been absorbed with Twitter while attending James Gandolfini’s funeral.
Some gay activists took Baldwin to task for his November epithet, and MSNBC canceled the actor’s short-lived talk show. He apologized at the time saying, “Words are important. I understand that, and will choose mine with great care going forward. What I said and did … as I was trying to protect my family, was offensive and unacceptable. Behavior like this undermines hard-fought rights that I vigorously support.”
The annual arts advocacy lectures in Washington, D.C., go back to 1988. As an actor, Baldwin is among the minority of lecturers who have been working artists, although four of the five talks from 2009 through 2013 were by actors or musicians -- Baldwin, Yo-Yo Ma (2013), Kevin Spacey (2011) and Wynton Marsalis (2009), interrupted in 2010 by Joseph P. Riley Jr., mayor of Charleston, S.C.
Including this year’s lecture, 11 of the 26 speakers have been actors, musicians, filmmakers, directors or authors of drama, poetry and fiction; no visual artist has given the Nancy Hanks Lecture. The 13 others have been civic, business and government leaders, journalists and historians.
Of course, Americans for the Arts and the lecturers it picks aren’t just advocating for creative artists, but for arts audiences -- and for those who’d become artists and audience members, given the broader exposure an effective federal arts policy can help foster.